My thoughts on "The Three Body Problem" by Cixin Liu

28 February 2024

A couple of days ago I was looking for something new to read on my daily commute by bus. Since I've heard so much about the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, I used my Audible credits to pick up the audio book to the first part of the series. Most of the reviews I read praised the book and it even won a Hugo Award a couple of years back, but the dark subject matter kept me from picking it up for a long time. Recently I have noticed that I prefer science fiction books with a more positive outlook. There's too much doom and gloom in real live, so I don't need to be dragged down by what is supposed to entertain me. But I was still intrigued by some of the ideas touched in the series, so I gave it a chance.

To my surprise I actually enjoyed the first part of the book set into the Chinese Cultural Revolution more than I anticipated. It's a part of history I didn't really know that much about and reading about it from a Chinese perspective was quite interesting. I also noticed that I had a hard time connecting with the protagonists, a feeling that even intensified in later parts of the book.

At the time of this writing, I haven't actually finished the book, and I am not sure if I'll actually make it through to the end. When reading science fiction I look for cool scientific ideas and interesting, believable characters, as well as good writing. Unfortunately the ideas presented in "The Three Body Problem" so far haven't been that exciting, while the characters are unlikeable, flat and don't act like real people. The female characters are actually the worst. At first I thought this might actually be a translation or culture issue, but I watched a video by a Chinese YouTuber which confirmed that the writing and characters are as bad in the original language and it's definitely not a culture thing. I am not going as fas as to accuse the author of misogyny, but the male gaze is all too obvious in his writing.

I also think that the author thinks he's more clever than he actually is. He definitely doesn't understand physics and modern scientific research as well as he thinks. Some of his descriptions of one of the protagonist's lab equipment and experiment reminded me of Dan Brown's writing which was so bad that the actual CERN eventually put up a webpage explaining all the misconceptions and errors in his book "Angels and Demons". It's also highly unlikely that any physicist worth their salt would be driven into suicide if major experiments shattered our understanding of reality. This has happened multiple times in the past and good scientists love a great mystery. Each unanswered question may lead to new discoveries. Perhaps there are some details revealed in later parts of the book which may help to make things make more sense, but at this point I am not sure, if I actually want to continue forcing myself though this book.

What I don't understand is all the hype around this book series? Is the first book an outlier and things get better in the later books? But why did the first novel get a Hugo award then? Is it because the author is Chinese and that makes the book "exotic" for Western audiences? Am I just a dumb idiot not seeing the author's brilliance? Inquiring minds want to know.